A number of local sushi restaurants shuttered during the pandemic. But those who have craved the dish now have a new option: Moriki Sushi, at 1800 E. 23rd St.
Sha and Leo Lei launched their first restaurant on Valentine’s Day, after years of studying the craft of sushi-making. The Leis had pondered starting a restaurant together after the pandemic, aware that many restaurants had closed and left a deficit to fill.
Leo, from China, first dreamt of starting his own Japanese restaurant six years ago after learning to make sushi as a chef at Sushi Station. Before that, he’d worked in the food industry for more than a decade.
Right away, he loved making sushi. Leo said it’s a creative dish. He’s attracted to the visual element of sushi, and how a dish he’s crafted can be pleasing to eat and pleasing to see.
“I liked making it,” Leo said. “(But) I needed a bigger stage.”
Leo has a fish allergy that prevents him from enjoying many of his own creations.
“Before I (didn’t) like sushi — I don’t eat fish. I don’t like fish but I am a sushi chef,” he joked.
Sha tries all of Leo’s dishes, and complains of weight gain since opening their restaurant as the dishes are so good, she said.
To perfect their dishes before opening, the Leis studied cuisine around the country and beyond — Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Bali and China — paying attention to small details that yielded success. For instance, the Leis learned to make nigiri from a chef in Chicago who taught them to make special sauces for each piece — a specialty most sushi restaurants neglect, Sha said.
Moriki Sushi offers the usual standard and specialty rolls that Americans are familiar with, Sha said, but there are a few unique items.
“We offer something different with the 0613 Roll and the 0306 Roll. That’s my husband and my birthday. He made all the ingredients he liked, and I made all the ingredients I like and mixed them together,” Sha said.
The 0613 includes shrimp tempura, avocado and cheese inside, topped with shrimp and crab meat; it’s sprinkled with eel sauce, spicy mayo, and crunch flakes. And the 0306 has smoked salmon, cucumber and cheese inside; it’s topped with salmon, tuna, avocado and tobiko, and smothered with mango sauce and wasabi mayo.
One thing you won’t see on the menu is fried rice.
“We have no fried rice, no lo mein,” Sha said. “First, we really want to do what we are good at. And second, our idea is to make fresh food, and low-carb like the spring roll. No carb, no oil, no MSG.”
Sha and her husband run the restaurant mostly on their own right now. Sha works as the hostess, waitress, and receptionist. Leo makes all the sushi. It’s a lot of work, Sha said, but she and her husband are grateful for the opportunity to try to make a success out of it.
“We are so grateful, because we are immigrants, we have a language barrier, and sometimes our social manners are different,” Sha said. “Sometimes we are very shy. We have no confidence, and I’m so appreciative of people in Lawrence.”
Moriki Sushi is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Learn more and see their menu on their website, morikisushi.com.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.